Object Lessons from the iPhone's Dropped-call Problem

Posted by Ian Tien


“Apple is addressing problems with its iPhone,” joked Jay Leno, “apparently when you buy a new iPhone 4 they’ll throw in a Verizon BlackBerry so you can make a call…”

Ouch.

Atop the jabs of late night comedians, the media expressed shock at Apple’s solution: giving out pieces of soft plastic to wrap around the iPhone 4 antenna to protect its signal. Sure, technically it worked—but wasn’t this a missed opportunity to delight customers?

To figure this out, we have to understand “customer happiness” and the features driving it.
Those features fall into four categories:

1.    Non-factors: These are features that most consumers are indifferent to, often added by engineers as vanity projects. Example: The ability to play MP3s on a GPS using a compact flash card. No one would miss the feature if it was not there, and not many are impressed by its addition.

2.    Table stakes: Having these doesn’t differentiate your product, but missing these creates dissatisfaction. Example: cup holders in cars; phone service in phones.

3.    Incrementals: Customer satisfaction varies with these features, and people pay more to get more. Example: storage space; processor speed; USB ports on computers.

4.    Delighters: Differentiating features create satisfaction when they're added, but not dissatisfaction when they're missing, since the feature is usually kind of novel. Example: video conferencing was a delighter as the iPhone 4 shipped, but as competitors catch up, they’ll eventually become incrementals, or even table stakes.

You can assess these buckets quickly using mockups, interviews, and surveys. Just have a couple of satisfaction questions. Once you have the data, here's what we think you should do: Drop your non-factors; meet your table-stakes; include incrementals to meet your price point; add your delighters to differentiate yourself, and win fans.

For the iPhone 4, people being able to make calls was table stakes. Apple couldn’t do better than meet expectations. They issued a pragmatic fix, but pressed on marketing its delighters—FaceTime and the Retina Display. The result: Despite reported call quality issues, Apple’s sales, profits and stock price continued rising, led by the iPhone 4.

I don’t mean to speculate on Apple’s decision.

I just hope the four bucket framework (called a “Kano Analysis,” after its inventor Noriaki Kano) might help teams make better decisions to delight customers in the long run.
It doesn’t mean I’m any less annoyed by dropped calls.